Tips & Strategies

Tips and Strategies

Test Day Tips


Though parents think about this more than our students, we’d like to share our thinking on lack of sleep. Don’t be afraid of it. Lack of sleep doesn’t affect the brain. And when it does affect the body it does so late in the day. Even if you only get 3 hours’ sleep the night before the SAT, body and brain are still fine in the AM. The sleepiness that may ensue does so in the late afternoon, long after the SAT is over. Nobody feels sleepy in the middle of a test.

Last Minute Studying

Don’t be afraid to study on Friday night – with the emphasis on reviewing what you’re good at. I’d stop by 10 pm and try to be asleep by 11, but if the latter doesn’t happen until 2am, don’t wake up at 7 and say “Poor me, I’m sleep-deprived”. You got 2 hours more than many students who will nevertheless peak on the SAT.

If a student has put in an hour a night review from Sunday through Thursday, there’s no need for more than an hour on Friday night. In no case should SAT study exceed 3 hours Friday night. There’s just not that much more you can do, and it could be detrimental. Go to an early movie instead.

Friday Night Tips

  • Do not take a stimulant that you are unused to for test day.
  • Don’t worry about waking up with minor sniffles, or a tummy ache. People suffering from allergies or mild colds can and do nail peak scores on test day. Don’t create an excuse to fall short.
  • No matter how much you realize you don’t know well, focus on what you DO know well. If anything, think about the kids who are coming into this cold.

Test Day Tips

  • Don’t read the directions! The directions are the same as those on the SATs you took before or practiced with. There will be no surprises. So it’s a waste of time to meticulously pore over the directions. Get right to the questions.
  • Minimize the times you look at your watch. Doing so distracts. So long as you are working on problems at the best pace you can, you are doing the right thing. Since the SAT is generally ordered from easy to difficult, the only reason for knowing how much time you have left is in the Reading Comprehension section, which is the one area with blocks of questions. Our suggestion is to look at your watch after you’ve completed the 19 Short Verbal questions and assess whether you can take on all the Reading Comp or whether you need to drop one of the sections.
  • If given a choice, sit in the back of the room. Proctors sit in the front and some of them make noise.
  • If a math question looks like it involves lengthy calculations, a shortcut almost certainly exists – try to find it.
  • If a Reading question involves a line reference, be prepared to reread a sentence prior to that line.

Reading Comprehension Tips

Know what you are reading by identifying the function of each paragraph. Some functions:

    1. to introduce
    2. to give the main idea (author’s ultimate opinion)
    3. to give an alternate idea (potentially a criticism of the author’s idea)
    4. to support an idea
    5. to refute an idea
    6. to exemplify
    7. to compare and contrast
  1. Use your finger as a pointer. Run it below the line of text. The human eye naturally follows a pointer, so this keeps your eye going at the pace your brain wants. Ideally right-handed students should use their left hands as pointers. That way they can take occasional notes in while holding their place in the passage with their left hand.
  2. Know what pronouns refer to. A pronoun stands for a noun. When you encounter words like “it”, “his”, “this”, “these”, “them”, if you don’t know their referring noun or noun clause, go back to find it.
  3. Before going to the questions, ask yourself “what’s the author’s overall idea?” and “how forcefully does she/he hold that idea?”. Note that nearly 1/3 of all reading passages lack a main idea. These are just descriptive. Take confidence in that and avoid answers that say the “author’s purpose is to argue” or “defend”.
  4. Be able to identify something about each proper noun. Expect the test to ask something regarding that person, place, or group.
  5. Don’t go out of your way to memorize details. Though it can’t hurt when details stick in your brain, given that the test frequently gives line references, and given that you identified something about each paragraph, you should be able to return to unknown details, reread for 30 seconds, and thereby get the right answer.

Getting Reading Comprehension Answers Right

  1. Unless you are running out of time, make sure you find clear support for an answer. To say “this could be right, sort of” is like putting a square peg into a round hole. Look to other answers instead of forcing one.
  2. Avoid classic bad answer choices. Here are seven:
    1. Your idea vs. Author’s idea (the test never asks “according to you”)
    2. first part true, second part false. Particularly on long answers, read the whole thing.
    3. answer contains an absolute word (90% of these are wrong). Double check yourself.
    4. too general or too specific
    5. good choice, but wrong author
    6. bad chronology
    7. bad causal or numerical relationship
  3. Avoid silly author’s attitudes. The test’s writers are people who have researched a topic for months. They are knowledgeable and at least somewhat passionate about their work. Therefore the following adjectives will not describe the test’s authors:
    1. surprised
    2. dumbfounded
    3. bewildered
    4. completely dispassionate
    5. detached
    6. remote
  4. Where the question asks “how would this author’s point be weakened?”, you need to lock into your head what the author’s point is. Then choose the choice that makes that viewpoint less likely. These questions tend to occur once per section.
  5. Try to predict an answer before reading the choices.
  6. When you have to reread and the question gives a line reference, begin a full sentence prior to the line in question.

Sample Vocabulary Tests


  • Part A – Briefly define the following
    o   anachronism
    o   auspicious
    o   condescending
    o   eclectic
    o   enervate
    o   exculpate
    o   facile
    o   hackneyed
    o   haughty
    o   ineffable
    o   intrepid
    o   ornate
    o   pragmatic
    o   temerity
    o   venerate
  • Part B – Find pairs of words with similar meanings
    o   obdurate
    o   penitent
    o   adamant
    o   spurious
    o   clandestine
    o   contrite
    o   surreptitious
    o   disingenuous
  • Part C – Write the word that fits the definition and the clue
    o ___________ visually appealing (begins with “ae”)
    o ___________ common, ordinary (begins with “mu”)
    o ___________ friendship (begins with “cam”)
    o ___________ a nonconformist (begins with “ma”)
    o ___________ to praise (begins with “ex”)
    o ___________ to soothe (begins with “mol”)
    o ___________ to entertain (begins with “re”)
    o ___________ not threatening (begins with “be”)
    o ___________ productive (begins with “pro”)
    o ___________ gruesome (begins with “lur”)


  • Part A – Briefly define the following
    o   Alacrity
    o   Apathetic
    o   Audacious
    o   Cajole
    o   Censure
    o   Debunk
    o   Enmity
    o   Ephemeral
    o   Glacial
    o   Juxtaposition
    o   Miffed
    o   Opulent
    o   Sagacious
    o   Sanctimonious
    o   Wary
  • Part B – Find pairs of words with similar meanings
    o   Fickle
    o   Transient
    o   Penurious
    o   Cordial
    o   Frugal
    o   Amiable
    o   Deleterious
    o   Harmful
  • Part C – Write the word that fits the definition and the clue
    o   ___________ enraged (begins with “li”)
    o   ___________ to calm, a break in activity (begins with “lu”)
    o   ___________ slow, without emotion (begins with “phleg”)
    o   ___________ an outcast (begins with “pa”)
    o   ___________ with enthusiasm (begins with “em”)
    o   ___________ to worsen (begins with “exac”)
    o   ___________ very perceptive (begins with “clair”)
    o   ___________ done without preparation (begins with “pe”)
    o   ___________ a mourning poem (begins with “el”)
    o   ___________ a guide or signal (begins with “be”)


  • Part A – Briefly define the following
    o   acrimony
    o   arcane
    o   bereft
    o   conundrum
    o   convoluted
    o   corroborate
    o   destitute
    o   disseminate
    o   effusive
    o   frenetic
    o   melancholy
    o   nonchalance
    o   perfidious
    o   tenacious
    o   unpalatable
  • Part B – Find pairs of words with similar meanings
    o   assiduous
    o   truculent
    o   diligent
    o   trite
    o   rancorous
    o   hackneyed
    o   exculpate
    o   absolve
  • Part C – Write the word that fits the definition and the clue
    o   ___________ shining brilliantly (begins with “re”)
    o   ___________ gladness (begins with “mi”)
    o   ___________ pretentious (begins with “po”)
    o   ___________ sarcastic, corrosive (begins with “cau”)
    o   ___________ associated with teaching, morality (begins with “di”)
    o   ___________ very clear (begins with “pel”)
    o   ___________ a trick (begins with “ru”)
    o   ___________ modest (begins with “de”)
    o   ___________ unnecessary (begins with “fr”)
    o   ___________ a disaster (begins with “ca”)


  • Part A – Briefly define the following
    o   demurral
    o   diffidence
    o   disheveled
    o   extrapolate
    o   impregnable
    o   indelible
    o   lexicon
    o   obstreperous
    o   pervasive
    o   quandary
    o   retroactive
    o   repudiate
    o   satire
    o   tepid
    o   vapid
  • Part B – Find pairs of words with similar meanings
    o   avid
    o   belligerent
    o   zealous
    o   ossified
    o   vernacular
    o   rigid
    o   cantankerous
    o   colloquial
  • Part C – Write the word that fits the definition and the clue
    o   ___________ having multiple meanings (begins with “eq”)
    o   ___________ examination of one’s feelings (begins with “in”)
    o   ___________ continuing in the same direction (begins with “ine”)
    o   ___________ pretentious language (begins with “bom”)
    o   ___________ to bring up a controversial issue (begins with “br”)
    o   ___________ blameworthy (begins with “re”)
    o   ___________ very important (begins with “pro”)
    o   ___________ showy (begins with “fl”)
    o   ___________ pointless speech (begins with “dr”)
    o   ___________ detailed (begins with “in”)


  • Part A – Briefly define the following
    o   analogous
    o   baleful
    o   bucolic
    o   construe
    o   despondent
    o   esoteric
    o   forthright
    o   ire
    o   irrevocable
    o   monolithic
    o   nefarious
    o   omniscience
    o   palpable
    o   protean
    o   quell
  • Part B – Find pairs of words with similar meanings
    o   punctilious
    o   extol
    o   persnickety
    o   ebullient
    o   parochial
    o   vivacious
    o   laud
    o   provincial
  • Part C – Write the word that fits the definition and the clue
    o   ___________ strong dislike (begins with “an”)
    o   ___________ trickery (begins with “ch”)
    o   ___________ boastful (begins with “va”)
    o   ___________ useless (begins with “fu”)
    o   ___________ severe, gloomy (begins with “do”)
    o   ___________ a wrong doer (begins with “mi”)
    o   ___________ an expert (begins with “co”)
    o   ___________ a body of beliefs (begins with “id”)
    o   ___________ someone who hates all mankind (begins with “mi”)
    o   ___________ keen (begins with “as”)


Quiz #1
Part B:
obdurate = adamant
penitent = contrite
spurious = disingenuous
clandestine = surreptitious
Part C:
Answers: aesthetic, mundane, camaraderie, maverick, extol, mollify, regale, benign, prolific, lurid

Quiz #2
Part B:
fickle = transient
penurious = frugal
cordial – amiable
deleterious = harmful
Part C:
Answers: livid, lull, phlegmatic, pariah, emphatic, exacerbate, clairvoyant, peremptory, elegy, beacon

Quiz #3
Part B:
assiduous = diligent
truculent = rancorous
trite = hackneyed
exculpate = absolve
Part C:
Answers: resplendent, mirth, pompous, caustic, didactic, pellucid, ruse, demure, frivolous,catastrophe

Quiz #4
Part B:
avid – zealous
belligerent – cantankerous
vernacular = colloquial
ossified = rigid
Part C:
Answers: equivocal, introspection, inertia, bombast, broach, reprehensible, profound, flamboyant,drivel, intricate

Quiz #5
Part B:
punctilious = persnickety
extol = laud
ebullient – vivacious
parochial = provincial
Part C:
Answers: anathema, chicanery, vainglorious, futile, doleful or dour, miscreant, connoisseur, idealogy, misanthrope, astute

Sample Math Questions

Sample Math Questions

Answers to the Math Questions
1) A
2) D
3) A
4) D
5) A
6) B
7) D
8) A
9) E
10) B

Explanation of Answers
1) A. When x is negative if you raise it to an odd power, the answer will be negative because all odd multiples of a negative number remain odd. Column A) will yield a positive answer for every x, because a negative number to the 10th power goes positive. So Positive beats negative, and Column A wins.

2) D. At some point the power of a high exponent will overwhelm the power of a low exponent. When p =2, Column A is 4 and Column B is 6. But when p = 10, Column A is HUGE (10,000,000,000 or ten billion) while Column B is 1000 – 10 or 990.

3) A. Recognize what happens in Column A with a fraction in the denominator: after we invert and multiply, the result will be GREATER THAN 1. Recognize that in Column B a fraction times itself remains a fraction. Indeed it goes lower. Multiplying the fraction by itself another time takes it lower still. Thus Column B must be less than 1.

4) D. A negative times a positive is negative. So Column A MUST be Negative. Column B COULD be negative if a is very low and b is close to 1. With a = -10 and b = 1/2, ab = -5 and a + b = -9.5, so Column A is higher. With a = -10 and b = 10, ab = -100 and a + b = 0. Thus we have discrepant results and D) is the answer.

5) A. Any number over itself (divided by itself) is 1. So in Column A we have 1 plus an even positive number. In Column B we have 1 – 1, which is always 0. Even with fractions for variables, this works.

6) B. Ratios express parts to wholes. As a fraction, the denominator is the second part. Here the ratio of fish in Zone A to Zone B is 4 to 5, or 4/5. This is less than 1. 100/80 is above 1, so B exceeds A.

7) D. Even if the question specified the “mean” average, there is still a definiteness problem. Unless the 4th highest score IS the median, the mean will be different, the mode will be different, and the median will be different.

If the scores are 48, 49, 50, 50, 51, 52, then the mean and the 4th highest are both 50.

If the scores are 100,100,100, 0, 0, 0, then the mean is 50 and the 4th highest is 0.

8) A. Approximate or calculate. Pi times something around 11 (root125 is a bit more than root121) result in approximately 35. Meanwhile, 15 times root5 is a bit more than 35.

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